County's libraries to expand system
2:00 a.m. December 27, 2008
SAN DIEGO — Self-checkout machines, which have become common in retail stores such as Home Depot, are also popping up in a growing number of public libraries throughout the county.
The city and the county of San Diego will expand their self-checkout programs at public libraries in 2009 at a time when they are coping with increasing demand but flat or declining budgets for staffing.
The county, which has 33 branches, has 26 self-checkout machines at 14 locations. In the next few years, it plans to expand the technology to 10 more locations.
The city, which has 36 library branches, has 37 self-checkout machines at 19 sites. It plans to have 49 machines at 22 locations by June. Among the new locations is the Logan Heights branch opening in the fall.
In some county libraries, such as the 4S Ranch and Rancho San Diego branches, as much as 80 percent of the materials checked out are handled by patrons themselves.
In some city libraries, such as North University and the Serra Mesa-Kearny Mesa branches, self-checkouts approach 70 percent of the circulation.
Jennifer Holland, who uses the Serra Mesa-Kearny Mesa branch, finds the self-checkout machines easy to use. Plus, she likes the fact that there is no line to use them.
“I've never had a problem,” she said.
The self-checkout machines are stationed near the staffed counter so if problems arise, patrons can get help right away.
Patrons scan their library card, then scan the bar code on the books.
The machines give voice prompts and print out a receipt with the due dates and the titles. The touch screen can provide directions in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Hindi, Korean and Vietnamese.
Jane Pisor, who has used the self-checkouts at city and county libraries, said they are easy to use, but she likes interacting with library workers at the checkout counters.
“I like the personal touch,” she said.
The city pays about $12,300 per machine. The county uses a different vendor and pays about $15,000 each.
County library director Jose Aponte said the self-checkout machines have worked out “swimmingly” and have helped the county handle huge increases in circulation with level funding and staffing. The annual number of items checked out at county libraries jumped from 4 million three years ago to more than 6.6 million this past year.
“Clearly, without technology, we would have been making cutbacks already,” he said. “I am very optimistic the technology will help us through some pretty challenging times.”
Aponte said when workers are freed up from the “drudgery of much of the day-to-day checking in and out books,” they have time to work on more meaningful programs, such as book clubs and children's activities.
Bruce Johnson, deputy director of the central division of the San Diego Public Library, also credits self-checkouts for improved operations. “Many users like a more self-directed approach. This helps them,” he said. “It helps us manage future increases in circulation. As branches become busier and circulation goes up, we are better equipped to manage the increase without necessarily adding clerical staff.”
An added benefit, Johnson said, is that patrons gain a measure of privacy by checking out their own books or DVDs.
Steve Hanulec, whose company, Library Automation Technologies, supplied the city's self-checkout machines, said they are becoming standard.
“What's happened now is, we are in a situation where it's become the expected norm wherever you go,” he said.
Helen Gao: (619) 718-5181; firstname.lastname@example.org